Immuno-Oncology Resource Center

Immuno-Oncology Resource Center

January 30, 2018
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CAR T-cell therapy named ASCO’s ‘Advance of the Year’

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Bruce E. Johnson, MD
Bruce E. Johnson

ASCO has named CAR T-cell immunotherapy as its cancer advance of the year, according to “Clinical Cancer Advances 2018: ASCO’s Annual Report on Progress Against Cancer.”

Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy uses a patient’s own white blood cells, which have been genetically reprogrammed to fight their cancer.

The annual ASCO report — released today on Capitol Hill, just days ahead of World Cancer Day on Feb. 4 — highlights the most important cancer research and policy developments over the past year.

As HemOnc Today previously reported, in 2017, the FDA approved the first two CAR T-cell therapies. In August, the FDA approved tisagenlecleucel T-suspension (Kymriah, Novartis) for the treatment of children and young adults with refractory B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, as well as those whose disease is in second or later relapse. In October, the FDA approved axicabtagene ciloleucel (Yescarta; Kite, Gilead) to treat adults with relapsed or refractory large B-cell lymphoma after two or more lines of systemic therapy.

The therapy is also being evaluated in other types of cancer, including multiple myeloma.

“It is remarkable to see these decades of effort come together to create this whole new type of treatment, as well as other precision medicine approaches that offer hope to people with advanced cancer,” Bruce E. Johnson, MD, FASCO, president of ASCO, said in a press release. “While we still have work to do to make these treatments accessible to patients everywhere and more tolerable, the successes of CAR T-cell therapy demonstrate the profound impact new treatments could make to markedly extend the lives of people with cancer.”

The report also included information on federal research funding. In 2017, the federal government boosted funding for the NIH and NCI; however, when adjusted for inflation, funding remains below prerecession levels, according to the report.

Additionally, according to an ASCO survey, 91% of Americans agreed that the U.S. government should dedicate substantial funding to cancer research and 73% said the government should spend more to support cancer treatments and cures, even if it means higher taxes and increases to the deficit.

“Americans are looking to Congress to continue to support investment in innovative cancer research,” Johnson said in the release. “Continued progress in developing transformative cancer treatments depends on it.”

The ASCO report also included a new modeling analysis that found 250,000 life-years could be saved with the use of currently approved immunotherapies for all 100,000 U.S. patients with lung cancers for which checkpoint inhibitors are currently indicated.

For the past 2 years, immunotherapy has been named ASCO’s “Cancer Advance of the Year.

John Heymach
John Heymach

Other cancer-related advances in 2017 noted in ASCO’s annual report involved immune checkpoint inhibitors, cancer prevention, patient care and precision medicine.

Last year also showed increases in the number of cancer survivors, with 26 million survivors expected in the United States by 2040; longer survival, with 64% of patients diagnosed in 2005 expected to live for 10 years compared with 35% of those diagnosed in 1975; and more FDA-approved treatments, with 18 new therapies and 13 new uses for 16 types of cancer approved in 2017, compared with eight new cancer therapies and 13 new uses the previous year, according to the report.

“When I stand back and look at the research progress documented in this report, I'm truly excited for our patients,” John Heymach, MD, PhD, professor and chair of the department of thoracic/head and neck medical oncology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, said in the release. “If we want to keep up the pace, we need to continue investing in the broad spectrum of cancer research, from prevention and screening to treatment and survivorship.”– by Cassie Homer